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Js Mill Essay, Research Paper
The principle of utility is that pleasure and happiness are valuable, pain and suffering are disvaluable, and anything else only causes the happiness or adds to the suffering. A utilitarian is someone who believes the principle of utility to be correct, and is therefore concerned with maximizing the utility of the universe. Utilitarianism indicates that an action is right if it produces as much or more of an increase in happiness, or wrong if it does not.
Utilitarianism is ultimately concerned with happiness, and utilitarian’s believe that the intrinsic value of happiness is unaffected by the identity of the being in which it (happiness) is felt. This means they reject egoism, racism, sexism, and other forms of unfair discrimination. This does not mean that people are not different. We are taller, smarter, stronger than others, but there is no logical reason for assuming that a difference in ability justifies any difference in the consideration given to their interests.
John Stuart Mill, more commonly know as JS Mill, was a philosopher in the 17th century. Born in London in 1806 to James Mill, a well- known philosopher and economist, he became widely known for his essays and writings. In his book Utilitarianism, Mill defends his Greatest Happiness Principle, and explains why he thinks that higher pleasures are better on utilitarian grounds that lower ones. In his defense of the Greatest Happiness Principle Mill says that just as the only proof that something is visible is that someone sees it, so the only proof that something is desirable is that someone desires it. He also says that people ultimately want their own happiness. I believe in the Greatest Happiness Principle, because I think that happiness and fulfilling ones desires are very important. On the other hand, I am having a little trouble agreeing with all of Mill’s arguments for the GHP. Just because you see something, does not necessarily mean that it is visible. A person could be high on LSD, and experience hallucinations. This person sees these visions, but they are not visible. Mill also mentions desirability in his argument, as something that people want. If something is desirable, it does not mean that it is possible to desire it, only that it should be desired. Visibility is a descriptive concept, while desirability is a normative one. So although “x is visible” does follow from “x is seen,” “x is desirable”, does not follow from “x is desired.” Sober says, “the fact that your own happiness is the most desirable thing for you doesn’t imply that you should maximize everyone’s happiness.” In the conclusion to his argument, Mill says that each person should perform those actions that promote the greatest happiness. “The conclusion of this argument sometimes requires you to act unselfishly to sacrifice your own happiness if doing so brings with it a more than compensating increase in the happiness of others,” Sober says. Here is where I side with the author; the conclusion does not seem to follow from Mill’s fourth premise, which is, the only thing that is ultimately desirable for a person is his or her own happiness. I believe that I am prepared to act unselfishly in certain situations for the benefit of others happiness. This mentality comes from my raising, my religion, and my beliefs. Mill says that I should do things only if they make me the happiest. I feel that sacrificing my time for others who are in worse off situations makes me happy. To increase the happiness of other people, in turn gives me a feeling of happiness, but following from premise number 4, Mill does not agree.
Moving off of the Greatest Happiness Principle for a moment, Utilitarian’s have a few problems with punishment. A non-utilitarian view of punishment is an eye for an eye. Retributionist want the punishment to fit the crime; utilitarian’s want the punishment to be chosen for its benefits. Sober uses the “Lonesome Stranger” as an example of who should be punished for a crime of murder. According to Utilitarianism, there is no absolute requirement that the guilty must be punished and innocent may be as well. They feel as if what should be done depends on which course of action will maximize happiness. I become a little confused at this point, because I have very high morals, and I think that it is morally wrong to punish the innocent. Further on in the text, Sober distinguishes between rule utilitarianism, and act utilitarianism. There are two alternatives to the “Lonesome Stranger” example. 1) Punish the innocent when convenient and 2) Never punish the innocent. Rule utilitarian’s will argue that #2 has the better consequences. Why is #2 better than #1? I think that if people generally believe that #1 is the policy that the government follows, a great deal of unhappiness will be produced. Not to mention that the example that would be set would not be a very positive one. Note that an act utilitarian will choose alternative #1.
Above I mentioned the word moral. The Oxford Desk Dictionary defines “moral” as, 1)“concerned with the distinction between right and wrong”, and 2) “concerned with accepted rules and standards of human behavior.” How does a utilitarian feel about what is right vs. what is wrong? Sober uses another example that I shall modify a little. If I am studying to be a research scientist, and I get offered a job working with animals. In order to study their systems completely, I have to kill the animals, “in the name of science”. Now, I feel that it is wrong to kill any defenseless creature, but if I do not, someone else will. A utilitarian would say that it makes no difference morally speaking, the net consequences are the same. I feel though that it does make a difference. If I decide to become an animal killer, I have done something wrong, if I do not; I have avoided doing something evil. Moral issues of what kind of person I should be is not something utilitarian’s take into consideration. According to utilitarianism, what I should do is look at the net consequences that would occur under each circumstance; this is different from considering what kind of person I ought to be.
When I began formulating my ideas for this paper, I thought that I agreed with the Greatest Happiness Principle, and the theory of utilitarianism. However, now that I have completed it, I am compelled to see things differently. I have been raised as a Christian and taught to live by the Creed of the Bible. I was taught to know, fulfill, and understand the words in it. Mill says in his book, “ In the golden rule of Jesus of Nazareth, we read the complete spirit of ethics of utility. To do as you would be done by, and to love your neighbor as yourself, constitute the ideal perfection of utilitarian morality.” As I first read through this section, I though that I understood Mills words completely, as well as his usage of the Ten Commandments. Now, I feel as if he contradicted himself. Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you, to me, means just that. If you are a person who treats people badly, how can you expect to in return be treated kindly? In any case, does this make people happy? Love thy neighbor as thy love thyself would be a wonderful concept. Yet, in the case that you live next door to a serial killer, would it be possible to truly love that person? Again, I ask if it would really make a person happy to love a murderer? My point is this, what exactly does the Ten Commandments have to do with attaining one’s greatest happiness? How do they constitute utilitarian morality? I see how they could constitute human morality, but not this theory of eternal happiness. Mill’s arguments calls for us to act selfishly towards others if that would give us the greatest happiness. The Ten Commandments does not say this at all. They say, “Thou shall not kill.” Personally, I feel as if a utilitarian would say, “thou shall not kill unless it gives you the greatest happiness, and then, if necessary, we can go and punish an innocent person. I think that Mill’s may have been on the right track, and perhaps became a little eccentric.
The world would be a wonderful place to live if there was more happiness, but not just for yourself- but for everyone. If we lived in a place where everyone was so busy trying to make themselves happy, would care and consideration become extinct? I think that it would, if everyone became self-indulged, who would be left to care about thy neighbor? My answer is no one, and that would cause a lot of unhappiness in the world.
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